Spiked punch

For the love of troubleshooting.

Computerworld  |  Shark Tank
Computerworld / IDG

It’s the early 1970s and pilot fish is a college student taking computer courses. These are the days of punching programs on cards, which is done using keypunch machines. Lots of students needing to submit lots of programs need lots of keypunches, and the school has installed eight IBM 029 keypunch machines in a converted classroom.

But eight isn't enough (despite what a popular TV program would say a few years later), and the lines to use the machines are usually long. And one day the line is especially long, because three of the machines are out order. Word is that the IBM support person won’t be coming for several hours.

Fish is curious, and more than a little bored with the waiting, so he sits down at one of the machines to have a look. And he sees that one of the machine’s 12 punch hammers is jammed on a card. Unjamming looks doable, so he carefully tugs at the exposed portions of the stuck card and tears off what he can. Then he improvises a “soft hacksaw” out of half of a fresh card and uses it to grind away the remaining fragments his fingers can’t reach.

It takes about 10 minutes of sawing (but, hey, the line is barely moving anyway), but eventually some small pieces of card come unstuck, the hammer unjams, and the machine is working again.

Fish signals to the next student in line to come and use the newly liberated keypunch, and fish is so pleased with his success that he hurries to another out-of-order machine to see what he can do. It’s the same problem, and after another 10 minutes, it’s punching cards for yet another grateful student. Third machine, ditto. Fish is feeling like a conquering hero as he starts to get up, but the waiting students reward the feeling and tell him he has more than earned the right to punch his own cards.

There’s no line to punch Sharky — er, I mean to email me. Send me your true tales of IT life at sharky@computerworld.com. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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